I'm just sitting here watching tv with our sweet little man who has the incredibly annoying habit of asking "What's that doin'?" about whatever happens to be on the screen every thirty seconds or so. Every week his personality changes; the week before Christmas I changed his diaper and he screamed the whole time that he wanted his dad to do it. That was also the phase of his total refusal to hug, kiss, or tell me he loved me. This week and last he's a little cuddle bug. He climbs up on the couch and fits his little body against my side and cuddles while we watch TV or read Dr. Seuss - "Do you like green eggs and ham?" - and then there's the wonderful fact that I can actually make him smile again, rather than scrunching up his face and giving me "But I don't waaaant to" or "But I have to" for the sixteenth time that hour.
He probably doesn't remember a time when his parents were together, after all, they were only really together for the first ten months or so of his life. By his first birthday, things were falling apart pretty rapidly; a month later they made the decision to separate. So he won't ever have memories of them together and when he actually starts forming memories, he'll feel like I've always been here. My training in educational and child psychology assure me of this. They also assure me that these mood changes are normal phases for a toddler to go through as they root around for the balance between independence and attachment and discover that they can manipulate their environments to suit their will. Hell, even his mother has remarked at what a defiant little hellion he's been.
But these phases are hard as hell to take as a step-parent. I thought, coming in to this situation, that the actual activities of parenting: diapers, nap time, screaming, time outs. keeping him from harming himself and everything else that a mom gets to deal with, would be the tough part. That stuff was cake compared to having a normally sweet and loving two year old look you in the face and tell you he doesn't love you. Talk about tearing my heart out.
The fact that I am not really his parent and that he does not just automatically love me is always hovering just on the edge of my consciousness, ready to pop in and give a villainous cackle. And then I get frustrated with myself; I know this child loves me, I know he loves to spend time with me, I know that he comes to me for comfort and for fun, but oooh two year olds can be cruel.
Right now things are wonderful and as long as I remind myself that it could be far worse, I could be trying to get a ten year old to love me, I do pretty well. It's even hard not to think of him as my own, as I would be delighted to be "Mom" rather than "my Rachel," but he adores his mom and I wouldn't have it any other way. I just hope that I continue to be his "Rachel" as he grows up (which seems to happen in leaps on a daily basis).